Since breathing is so vital to our survival, the way we breathe has a profound effect on our physical, mental and emotional state.
What’s wrong with mouth breathing?
Mouth breathing has many negative health related outcomes and studies show that it impacts memory, attention, concentration and focus. Mouth breathing is also associated with migraine and headaches, hyperventilation, anxiety, depression, fibromyalgia and IBS.
Mouth breathing doesn’t support proper respiratory function and involves less diaphragmatic movement, leading to a dominance of chest breathing which can activate the sympathetic nervous system via increased breathing rate and heart rate, resulting in feelings of anxiety.
Mouth breathing activates the accessory muscles for respiration too, often felt as tightness and tension through the shoulders and neck. All in all, it’s really not ideal to breathe through the mouth. Even exhaling through the mouth (as is so often encouraged) results in loss of heat and up to 42% more water from the body than if we exhaled through the nose.
It may seem counterintuitive to breathe through the nose, after all the nostrils provide a significantly smaller passage for air than the mouth. However, what this means is that when we breathe through the nose, we create 50% more resistance compared to mouth breathing and this results in 10-20% greater oxygen uptake in the blood.
The lower lungs are rich with parasympathetic nerve receptors which help to calm the body and mind – nasal breathing draws the air deeper into the lower lungs as it promotes a deeper breath. In turn this also increases perfusion levels through the lungs promoting increased oxygenation.
So, NO means… no mouth breathing…well, it actually means Nitric Oxide.
What’s the big deal about Nitric Oxide?
Our paranasal sinuses produce Nitric Oxide (NO) which is carried into the lungs with each breath. NO is anti-viral and anti-bacterial and acts as the body’s first line of defence against airborne bacteria, making nasal breathing a non-negotiable in public spaces.
When NO is carried through the breath into the body via slow nasal breathing, it helps regulate blood pressure and boosts the immune system. Mouth breathing reduces the levels of Nitric Oxide within the respiratory tract.
More benefits to nasal breathing (did you nose this?)
- We exhale more slowly through the nose, so the lungs have more time to extract oxygen and this slows down the stress response
- Air inhaled through the nose passes through the nasal mucosa stimulating reflex nerves that control breathing. Mouth breathing bypasses the nasal mucosa, which can lead to snoring, breathing irregularities and sleep apnoea.
- The nose and sinuses filter and warm or cool the air as we breathe. Like an internal air conditioning unit.
- It’s estimated that the cilia hairs inside the nasal passages protect our bodies from 20 billion particles of foreign matter a day!
- The nose houses the olfactory bulb which directly connects to amygdala and hippocampus, strongly influencing emotion and memory. Studies show that nose breathers consolidate their memories more effectively.
- Have you heard of ‘honeymoon nose”? The nose is lined with the same kind of erectile tissue as genitals, and those tissues become swollen when you get excited. The two areas are so closely connected that some people experience uncontrollable sneezing when excited.
So now you ‘knows’ why the nose.